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Legally Armed: V21N5

By Teresa G. Ficaretta, Esq. & Johanna Reeves, Esq.

GAO Rings the Alarm Bell on ATF’s Adherence to Restrictions on Information Collection

Individuals who purchase firearms from federal firearms licensees (FFLs) are often anxious over the potential release of personal information and firearm purchase information recorded on certain forms the FFL is required to keep. What happens to the personal information and firearms information on these government forms? Does the government put the information about purchasers and firearms into a centralized database or system of registration?

Last year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF’s) data restrictions titled, “FIREARMS DATA—ATF Did Not Always Comply with the Appropriations Act Restriction and Should Better Adhere to Policies.”

This article will examine the checks and balances Congress put in place to prevent the ATF from establishing a firearm registration system with centralized purchaser information. We will then review the effectiveness of these checks and balances as reported by the GAO in its June 2016 report to Congress.


Under the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), FFLs must create and maintain records of firearms transactions and make these records available to the ATF for inspection which can be warrantless under certain circumstances. The required records include the Form 4473, which contains the buyer’s personal information, such as name, residence address, date of birth, race and ethnicity, answers to questions focused on the buyer’s eligibility to possess a firearm, as well as the make, model and serial number of the firearm purchased. Additionally, when an FFL sells more than one handgun (pistol or revolver) to a non-licensee, either in the same transaction or within five consecutive business days, the FFL must submit the Report of Multiple Sale or Other Disposition to the ATF and designated state police or local law enforcement. The multiple sale report form also contains personal information about the buyer as well as the make, model and serial number of the particular firearms purchases.

To carry out its responsibilities under the GCA, the ATF maintains computerized information on firearms transactions derived from the...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N5 (June 2017)
and was posted online on April 21, 2017


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